European Google Exec Hints at Possible Changes After Recent Criticism

At Last Week's DMexco Conference, Different Solutions Are Mentioned

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After coming under fire in Germany and elsewhere in Europe for its approach to privacy, Google seems ready to change the way it operates in the region, according to Philipp Justus, the company's managing director in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Philipp Justus
Philipp Justus

Google, can "offer solutions that are different from what we've had in the past," Mr. Justus said at last week's DMexco conference in Cologne, Germany.

The line followed a statement about Google's desire provide as much data transparency as possible: "We can do better as a company to be part of the conversation," he said.

Mr. Justus' concessions came only after he was pressed by the session moderator, Wolfram Kons, following his vague response to a question about recent criticism of Google.

"We would like to invite people to have maybe a bit of more of an open discussion that's more forward looking, looking at sort of the opportunities of innovation rather than talking about the risks," Mr. Justus said in response to an initial question about the criticism of Google.

"This is the big picture but what parts of the criticism [do} you really take seriously?" Mr. Kons countered, which led to Mr. Justus' response about different solutions.

Mr. Justus provided no further information on what the changes might look like. And they may not be good enough for the company's critics.

Just days before Mr. Justus was scheduled to speak at DMexco, the European Commission pushed Google for more concessions on a proposed antitrust settlement. And yesterday The Wall Street Journal reported that News Corp had joined the chorus of those asking for the Commission to throw the settlement out entirely and accusing the search giant -- in a letter dated Sept. 8 -- of being a "platform for piracy."

The company has been widely criticized in Europe for its search algorithm, which some claim favors Google products above the competition. Google has also been hit with fines for its Street View product and also acquiesced to allow European users to request removal of certain search results tied to their name as part of what's known as "the right to be forgotten." And, just this week, German justice minister Heiko Maas called for Google to reveal details of its search algorithm.

Mr. Justus started his presentation with an implicit rebuttal to those angered with Google search algorithm, showing recent tweaks -- such as a voice search function that can answer questions about physical structures a user points their phone to -- displaying the products' utility when put into action.

When asked when Google Glass (with its eye mounted cameras) were coming to Germany, Mr. Justus declined to provide a date. "We don't have a date for Germany yet," Mr. Justus said. "Partially also because we want to make sure that all of the relevant and important privacy questions get addressed before we launch it here."

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